World Chess to Women: How About We Play in Iran?
I’m a life-long devotee of the Royal Game of chess, and a follower of events at the grandmaster and world championship levels since the Fischer-Spassky match in 1972. That being the case, I’m well acquainted with FIDE, the World Chess Federation that has long been a snake pit of politics and corruption. In decades past, it was a plaything of Soviet propaganda. In more recent times, it has become a bastion of greed (it’s current president is on a US sanctions list for having business dealings with Bashar al-Assad, the Butcher of Syria). I have to admit, though, that this item from the Daily Telegraph of the UK caught me by surprise:
The world’s top female chess players have reacted with horror after being told they must compete at next year’s world championship wearing a hijab.
Within hours of Iran being revealed as its host country, the prestigious event was plunged into crisis as it emerged players taking part face arrest if they don’t cover up.
In response, Grandmasters lined up to say they would boycott the 64-player knock-out and accused the game’s scandal-hit governing body FIDE of failing to stand up for women’s rights.
Not to mention safety, common sense, or basic human decency.
FIDE’s Commission for Women’s Chess, meanwhile, called on participants to respect “cultural differences” and accept the regulations.
Hijabs have been mandatory for women in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the strict law is enforced by the country’s “morality police”.
Any woman found not wearing one in public faces arrest, a fine or public admonishment. However, players claim by awarding the event to Iran Fide is turning a blind eye to sexual discrimination.
Nazi Paikidze, the US women’s champion, also raised concerns about players’ safety in the Islamic republic.
“It does not feel safe for women from around the world to play here.” Paikidze added: “I am honoured and proud to have qualified to represent the United States in the Women’s World Championship. But, if the situation remains unchanged, I will most certainly not participate in this event.”
The U.S. Department of State has issued a warning about travelling to Iran saying citizens risk being unjustly imprisoned or kidnapped because of their nationality.
Of course, the state of FIDE is such that it might have arranged for the tournament to be played in Iran provided it got a cut of the ransom money. I have no doubt whatsoever that someone or ones got paid off by the mullahs to place such a high level event in such an appalling location.
Susan Polgar, the Hungarian-born American Grandmaster and chair of Fide’s Commission for Women’s Chess, responded by defending the federation and saying women should respect “cultural differences”.
She said: “I have travelled to nearly 60 countries. When I visited different places with different cultures, I like to show my respect by dressing up in their traditional style of clothing. No one asked me to do it. I just do it out of respect.”
Yo, Susan: that’s not the situation here. The players will be forced to wear it whether they wish to or not (chessplayers at that level can be remarkable finicky about things like clothes, wanting the absolute minimum in distractions from their concentration on the board), and there’s a threat of imprisonment if they don’t. That’s hardly the same as wearing a sari in India, where if you don’t they smile and say nothing about how you are a threat to public order.
Nigel Short, the British former world title contender, said: “There are people from all sorts of backgrounds going to this, there will be atheists, Christians, all sorts of people.
“If you are deeply Christian why would you want to wear a symbol of Islamic oppression of women?”
Short makes a valid point, and here’s another–what if that devout Christian wanted to wear a cross? There are a variety of restrictions on public displays of non-Islamic religion in Iran, and the last thing someone is going to want to do while focusing on chess is to worry about whether the religious police will want to have a talk with her after the round about a prominent but proscribed piece of religious jewelry.
As much as I enjoy following events like the Women’s World Championship, I hope the participants will strike a blow for freedom and decency and tell FIDE where it can put its hijab.
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